Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bulk Freight and Container Vessels Take up Arms Against the Pirates

But are IMO Guidelines on Private Security Enforceable?
Shipping News Feature

UK – SOMALIA – WORLDWIDE – The 90th session of the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) ended yesterday after intense discussions regarding the future of the private maritime security companies (PMSC’s) increasingly seen aboard passenger, bulk freight and container ships travelling routes known to be home to the threat of pirate attack. The IMO is of course after all, the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping.

The MSC heard how, worldwide, seven crew members were killed in 2011, up from two in 2010, while 569 crew members were reportedly kidnapped, with the majority of piracy incidents occurring off the East African coast totalling 223 in 2011, up from172 the year before. The drop in kidnapped personnel (down from 1,027 in 2010) would seem to indicate that the tide is turning as regards the size of vessel now under threat with captures of small fishing craft for example virtually ignored by the world’s media.

With most of the major shipping nations seeing their native flag carriers using PMSC’s to protect their investments regardless of official policy, it was inevitable that retrospective action by the IMO would become necessary if only to protect the organization’s credibility. Following the debate the MSC agreed interim guidelines for PMSC’s providing contracted armed security personnel on board ships in the High Risk Area.

The MSC agreed that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) would be best placed to develop international standards based on the guidelines agreed upon so one seriously wonders just how long it will take to develop a uniform code of practice given that people are dying on both sides of an ongoing conflict. Given the plethora of nations involved, the huge variation in the size and value of pirate targets and victims and the abundance of national laws and regulations involved nothing would be more welcome than a standardisation of protective measures but just how long will such legislation take?

The other consideration is that any such legislation can probably never become mandatory and therefore will remain voluntary, as with the Best Management Practices which have done so much to aid shipping under threat, yet are still ignored by some vessels travelling in the danger zone. The MSC’s intent is excellent, now global shipping executives will look for rapid implementation or the cases of hijacking will have virtually disappeared in vessels of a size which warrant their own security team due to the major shipping companies own policies.

The guidelines agreed upon by the MSC include professional certification (whenever international standards are established by the ISO), recommendations as to the vetting and training of personnel, standards regarding communications with ship operators and the vessels themselves, recommendations relating to management of firearms and ammunition from embarkation to disembarkation and use of force (whilst recognising different laws dependent on the nations and territories concerned).

With an added clause stating that, once established, the MSC will meet when required to revise any standards established, cynics within the shipping world will doubtless say that this is a classic case of diplomats and politicians prevaricating and considering their own roles whilst the navies charged with protecting shipping have seemed of late much more capable of communicating with each other regardless of national differences and individual vessel owners and operators have got on with the job of protecting their own interests with the effective use of armed private security.

Photo: The recent IMO meeting in London.